I find it interesting that in John 4.1-42 [the story of the Woman at the Well], John shapes the narrative in such a way that we are confronted with Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. John doesn’t just recount this incident, he shapes it so that we won’t miss the significance of it, if we are not too lazy to look.
Remember that John did not write his story of Jesus to demonstrate how he, or the disciples, or even this unnamed woman came to faith, he wrote it so that we might come to faith.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30–31 ESV)
John already had life in Jesus’ name when he wrote this, as did the Sycharian woman. He is writing so that you, dear reader, may have life in Jesus’ name.
When Jesus spoke the words: “I am [the Messiah], the one speaking to you,” the place in which he spoke these words was super important in Israel’s history.
This is a 3d image of the geography around Shechem [thanks to Accordance Bible Software]. Jacob’s well was just outside the village of Shechem. Shechem and the little village of Sychar sat in the valley between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, which at the time was part of Samaria, but of course was once part of Israel proper. This area had tremendous! significance to Israel.
First, as recounted in Genesis 12, God swore to Abraham the covenant which theologians call the “Abrahamic Covenant.”
“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”” (Genesis 12:1–3 ESV)
After Abraham receives the covenant and goes to the land promised to him by God, look where he ends up:
“Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him.” (Genesis 12:6–7 ESV)
Yep. Abraham builds an altar at Shechem. Exactly in the location in which Jesus and the woman were speaking.
When Jacob returns to Israel with Leah and Rachel and his children and flocks, guess where he ends up:
“And Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, on his way from Paddan-aram, and he camped before the city. And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent. There he erected an altar and called it El-elohe-israel.”
(Genesis 33:18–20 ESV)
When Joshua leads the Israelites back into the Promised Land, guess where they end up:
“At that time Joshua built an altar to the LORD, the God of Israel, on Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded the people of Israel, as it is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, “an altar of uncut stones, upon which no man has wielded an iron tool.” And they offered on it burnt offerings to the LORD and sacrificed peace offerings. And there, in the presence of the people of Israel, he wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them.” (Joshua 8:30–35 ESV)
Yep. Shechem. In this exact same spot.
The area of Shechem in the very shadows of Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, had become closely associated in the history of Israel with God’s promises going all the way back to Abraham. What was one of the promises God had made to Abraham? “In you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
Think about it. Here is Jesus, standing where both Abraham and Jacob had built altars to the Lord, standing where the Israelites who had returned from Egypt had built and altar to the Lord and read the words of the Law, saying, “I am [the Messiah]” to a woman who was not a Jew, but would leave the well that day a follower of the Messiah.
What God had promised to Abraham some 1500 years before was beginning to come to pass in the exact spot where Abraham had memorialized the promise. In Jesus all the nations of the earth would be blessed because we can all—regardless of nationality—follow the Messiah, just like this unnamed woman.
Oh, and this is the first time in the gospels that Jesus actually says that he is the Messiah. Do you think that Jesus spoke these words at Jacob’s well by chance? Do you think John did not understand the significance of place here?
Neither do I, dear reader, neither do I.